Dinosaurs once roamed the earth. In the 1960s, Dean Martin roamed the earth. To a kid growing up in the 1960s, he seemed like a living fossil. What was the big deal? “That’s Amoré!” answers the question in FST’s latest cabaret production.
Richard and Rebecca Hopkins’ revue features a singing/dancing quartet backed up by Andrew Deeb on drums and Jim Prosser on piano. The singer/actors aren’t in character but tend to gravitate to certain roles. Roughly speaking, Mike Backes is the default Dean Martin; Nick Anastasia is Jerry Lewis; Nygel D. Robinson is a universal Mr. Cool; and Emily Dennis is Marilyn Monroe — or whatever powerful woman was drawn to the Rat Pack’s orbit.
As always, the show is packed with fun facts. You learn that Dean Martin (born Dino Paul Crocetti) started out as a critically despised Bing Crosby imitator and found commercial and critical success after he found his own groove. He loved not wisely but too well. Martin had three wives and eight children — one of whom died in a tragic plane accident. Martin also loved alcohol but played it up as part of his tipsy, playboy image. (Those martini glasses were often filled with apple juice.) Along with a great voice, Martin was blessed with a photogenic face. That face appeared in a string of hit movies. On TV, Martin teamed up with Jerry Lewis in the “Martin and Lewis Show” in the 1950s. Martin didn’t get along with the wired workaholic, and they famously split. Lewis was conspicuously absent from “The Dean Martin Show,” which ran from 1965 to 1974. In Las Vegas, Martin famously teamed up with Joey Bishop, Sammy Davis Jr., Frank Sinatra, Peter Lawford and others. The press called them “The Rat Pack.” They called themselves “The Summit,” when Davis nixed the notion of “The Clan.” And did we mention Martin’s hits?
The first act kicks off with “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head,” pitches “Pennies from Heaven” and nods to “The Naughty Lady of Shady Lane,” who presumably worked “That Old Black Magic.” Martin’s surrogates protest “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.” The titular “That’s Amoré” affirms that Martin had plenty of love to share.
The second act sings the praises of Martin’s Italian heritage with “Mambo Italiano” and “Volaré.” But love is the universal language. “I Wanna Be Loved By You,” “Everybody Loves Somebody” and “You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves Loves You” prove Martin was fluent in it.
The Hopkins’ revue cleverly illustrates Martin’s biography with his music. “What Would You Do Without Me” becomes an ode to his spats with Lewis. The various love anthems sing the flings of Martin’s hungry heart (and the affairs, divorces and remarriages that ensued).
Catherine Randazzo directs with the snappy pace and winking wit you might have seen on Martin’s variety show. (Or “Laugh-in,” which it spawned.) The singing actors are winning in their loosely worn characters. The scenes where Martin and Lewis tangle are particularly funny. Anastasia’s Lewis comes off as a manic Chihuahua nipping at the bulldog heels of Backes’ Martin. Robinson is too cool for school and plays a mean cello. Dennis’ bombshell character fearlessly crashes the boy’s club. (And she plays a mean cello too.)
Susan Angermann’s costumes (tuxes for the guys and poured-into evening gowns for Dennis) crisply capture the lush life of the era. Darren Server’s music direction and Prosser’s arrangements pick up the pace on the lounge lizard tunes.
You’re in for an entertaining evening. This celebration of the Dean Martin songbook doesn’t take itself too seriously. But it proves a serious point …
Marty Fugate is a writer, cartoonist and voiceover actor whose passions include art, architecture, performance, film, literature, politics and technology. As a freelance writer, he contributes to a variety of area publications, including the Observer, Sarasota Magazine and The Herald Tribune. His fiction includes sketch comedy, short stories and screenplays. “Cosmic Debris,” his latest anthology of short stories, is available on Amazon.